Alex Martin, EMBA 2020, is the first Naval Academy graduate featured by OneHaas Alumni Podcast. Entrepreneurship took a surprising route for him: he formed a coastal security company, joined a social venture with the farmers in Kenya, and then pivoted to a tech startup that uses voice analytics to identify fraud and security risks. Get to know how the skills he learned in the Marine Corps, such as decision-making under pressure, organization, and leadership, translated well into the corporate boardroom in this article.
On Joining the Naval Academy
Growing up in San Diego, California, Alex grew up in a military family and was inspired to enter the Naval Academy at an early age. He took it as an opportunity to learn leadership from Marine officers and specialize his skills in the infantry, working with ground troops that engage with the enemy in close-range combat. After spending seven and a half years in deployment, Alex transitioned into entrepreneurship, another area where he has been trained since he was young.
Learning Business Perspectives at Home
Alex was introduced to concepts around deals, investments, and capital practically while spending time with his parents, as both of them are businesspeople. His business perspective and risk appetite were formed from just having conversations with his family.
“Every day is a combat. And something that I think is fundamental to entrepreneurship is waking up with an understanding day’s going to be hard, but attitude is a weapon.”
Thus, when Alex detected a problem in his subject matter expert, he didn’t let the opportunity pass him by to offer a solution and drive value to people. He saw the gap in maritime security as a chance to offer a viable alternative rather than a challenge that will hinder their operations.
“As an entrepreneur, you create a solution for an area of need and drive value towards people that are in a lot of pain.”
First Startup: A Maritime Security Company
The company he founded in 2011, Skye Maritime, served to provide better and safer operations against the threats posed by pirates. Alex had a business plan was written and formed a team of experts to mitigate the attacks on the ships that transport weapons through the Indian Ocean. With his privatized security solution, he was able to keep workers safe and ensure that they could go home safely to their families.
As a result of his efforts, the pirate attacks stopped in 2013. At the same time, this also signaled the end of his first venture just when they were gaining momentum in the company. But Alex saw it as a start of something new and a cue to join a venture with a deeper social cause.
“I guess the learning for anyone out there, who’s thinking that their first startup or where their next startup is going to be is the journey. It’s more of a river with tributaries and estuaries, and you’re moving along the river. You might float up and reach Nirvana in the promised land, or you might get a lot of learnings and collect insights, people, and network that will lead to the next phase.”
Exiting Skye Maritime and Joining a Social Venture
Alex had to sell his company, Skye Maritime, which then transitioned into a logistics-oriented enterprise. As he exited his business, he decided to explore life outside the military— without any weapon or body armor. He joined Nuru International, a social venture formed by a former Marine who realized that his opponents were products of extreme poverty and recruited to commit crimes and violence to provide for their families. Nuru International assists poor regions at risk of insurgency and participation in terrorist activity. The organization empowers people through entrepreneurship so they don’t have to engage in crime to survive. Alex felt more connected to humanity when he witnessed a different frontline where farmers woke up every day to fight hunger.
“I think spending two years with no body armor, no weapon living in the village with the bravest entrepreneurs in the world, which are small shareholders, rain-fed water, and agricultural farmers. These are the bravest entrepreneurs, and they’re in combat every day to feed themselves.”
Hire Without Bias by Leveraging Technology
Seeing their condition of economically-challenged regions in Africa, Alex aimed to help create more opportunities and choices for them. However, employers have no way of checking the background of off-shore applicants as CVs and resumes can be fabricated, and character references can be faked. How can companies distinguish people with integrity and a sincere desire to contribute through their work from those not capable of being trusted? Alex founded Clearspeed, a tech company that identifies fraud and security risks using voice analytics to provide a solution. Clearspeed is an AI-powered fraud detection technology that helps applicants gain trust by vouching for them with agnostic data points. While Clearspeed helps employers hire faster by verifying recruitment information, it also filters and clears insurance claims by capturing voices to analyze fraud.
“The genesis of Clearspeed came about by meeting other veterans from the special operations world that were working on. technology designed to help filter and clear people, and then taking that technology, working on it, enhancing it, validating it, productizing it, and bringing it to the market as a way for hiring to happen better and faster remotely.”
Moving to Bay Area To Study MBA
Humbled by the confluence of past decisions in his military career and startup ventures, Alex decided to invest time in MBA. He chose Haas for the rich experience with the network of people with the same vigor to create opportunities for others through entrepreneurship.
“Entrepreneurship is really hard. It’s a good thing to teach. It’s really hard to practice. And it can be learned. It can be done, but the first element has to be risk appetite and courage and sometimes, stupidity, but, that first startup ended with as a new beginning to the next thing.”
In preparation for the growth phase of Clearspeed, Alex utilizes all the lessons learned during his MBA. By creating overseas jobs and assisting startups in finding the best talent for their teams, he and his small team are striving towards greater impact.
Click here to listen to Alex Martin’s full podcast episode.